Ask a therapist: 'My depression always comes back at Christmas and I can't talk to anyone about it'

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I took my children to see Santa in town the other night and as we walked up Grafton Street, looking at the Christmas lights, I felt like crying...


Dear Therapist,

I was diagnosed with depression four years ago and I was prescribed an SSRI antidepressant which I took for about 18 months before slowly weaning myself off it. I went through a period of feeling very dark but the medication gave me a break in the clouds and I used it to join a gym and, eventually, lose almost two stone.

My family and my loved ones often remark on how much of a turnaround I’ve made — and I have. My darkest days are well behind me but I find that I go back to that place during the month of December. I noticed it last year and I’m beginning to feel it this year too. I took my children to see Santa in town the other night and as we walked up Grafton Street, looking at the Christmas lights, I felt like crying.

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I’m sleeping a lot (the first sign, I find) and I’m using up a lot of the limited energy I have trying to get into the Christmas spirit. I can’t talk to anyone about this because I don’t want to spoil everyone’s Christmas. My husband and my family think I have overcome depression — and I have for the most part — so I don’t want to worry them unnecessarily. What should I do?

Dear Anonymous,

First of all, I’m sorry to hear that you are struggling right now. It sounds as though things are weighing on you quite heavily. It is good to hear that you can recognise the symptoms of a more difficult emotional state for yourself and that you are prepared to take steps necessary to begin to feel better.

It is really common to have a negative emotional fluctuation around this time of year. SAD (or Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a common ailment. Lower energy, as you describe, worsening mood and a difficulty with the tasks of life that used to not feel difficult are common symptoms. If you feel that this is true for you, perhaps consider treating your depression, at the moment, within this context. Being out in the sunshine as much as possible every day will have an impact (there is proof that increasing your vitamin D will have a marked effect on SAD).

I also hear that your weight has been a space where you can feel that you have affected your physical and mental health positively. Increasing your time spent doing something that is solely for yourself and not in the service of others can really help right now. Treating your worsening mood as SAD can allow you to put a boundary around this period and hopefully help you to understand that these times might arise now and then and that they do not necessarily represent a decline back to a space that you really did not enjoy.

Your emotional state, like everyone else’s, will always be in movement

Within this context, a short spell back on an antidepressant might make all the difference, if this is something that you feel you do without being hard on yourself for reusing a crutch at this time. However, there is something else that I would like to mention to you. That is that throughout your query, I hear a negative inner voice that is giving you a very hard time. The desire to spare your family any suffering is noble, but unattainable. Your emotional state, like everyone else’s, will always be in movement.

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You will have times where you feel sad, angry, afraid and even depressed as you move through life. Acknowledging this as a part of a normal emotional spectrum is really important for all of us. I don’t know your family but I do know that they would rather that you were able to tell them how you really feel than see you pretend to be happy some of the time. Talking about your mental health will not only help you within your family but will also help any other member of your family that may struggle at any point.

Being open and honest about this is significantly more brave and strong than keeping any negative feelings bottled up. Within that space, having a few sessions with a therapist might give you the tools you need to be honest with yourself and with your family about how you are feeling. If this is an option that you want to take, there are excellent therapists around. The very best of luck to you. You are doing a wonderful job at dealing with your mental health and this bump in the road does not necessarily represent anything more than one element in a very normal and full emotional spectrum.

Lorraine Hackett is a therapist with MyMind. If you have a concern that you'd like to share with a therapist, email MyMind in confidence at [email protected]

MyMind provides affordable counselling and psychotherapy online or face-to-face in their Dublin, Cork and Limerick centres in over 15 languages. Visit www.MyMind.org to book an appointment or call 076 680 1060

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